When Kirthiga Reddy opened Facebook’s India office in 2010, the site had just 8 million users in a nation of 1.2 billion people. Since then, she’s grown Facebook India ninefold, to 71 million as of the end of 2012–healthy growth, given that only a tenth of Indians have Internet access.
Reddy credits Facebook’s new-age workplace culture, which she imported from Silicon Valley. The “flat culture,” as Reddy calls it, is radically different from the hierarchical and bureaucratic Indian norm. “You’re not here to do just what you’re told. You’re here to see gaps and to act upon them.” New hires in India often find it hard to embrace, and worry that forward conversations may jeopardize their work. “Actually, the relationship will be stronger.”
Reddy also brings a deep understanding of how Indians use the platform differently from users in other countries. While typical Facebookers start on their desktops, members in India tend to go mobile. “Sometimes [users] never got to the desktop at all,” Reddy says. This insight led to the Facebook for Every Phone initiative, an app that extended the social network beyond smartphones to cheaper, lower-end phones.
Because Facebook Messenger is used more in India than elsewhere–often as a substitute for SMS or phone calls–Reddy created a standalone Messenger app enabling users to communicate without opening the Facebook app. Last year, a turmeric farmer, concerned about falling prices for his crop, used Facebook on his phone to contact other farmers across the country. They withheld supply for several days, restoring prices, and showing the power of connected community. Such stories, says Reddy, “bring the picture together for us.”
[Photo by Lamia Maria Abillama]